All the best ones are dying off so quickly, while I’m still here, enjoy me while you can,” sings Robbie Williams on the opener of his 11th studio album ‘The Heavy Entertainment Show’. In a year that’s seen genuine musical heavyweights like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen pass away, Williams’ plea for the listener to see him as a member of their company — even if meant slightly tongue-in-cheek — comes across as ridiculous.
And that’s the issue with ‘The Heavy Entertainment Show’. By lampooning Williams’ perceived public persona as self-obsessed and fame-hungry, Robbie and his team of co-writers aim to cast the LP as self-aware and self-deprecating, but instead create an album that’s both tactless and lowbrow.
Take lead single 'Party Like a Russian', a supposedly smart satirical swipe at the corruptness and insincerity of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s regime. In a post-Brexit, post-Trump world in which the West is governed by its own circus of fools, mocking the Russian establishment as an emblem of political depravity just looks gutless and clichéd.
It’s not just the themes of ‘Heavy Entertainment…’ that strike an off-kilter note though; the crassness permeates the lyrics too. The worst offender in this regard is ‘Motherfucker’, on which Williams severs his chance of ever winning a Nobel Prize for literature with the unequivocally unenlightened chorus of “your grandma is a fluffer… we are bad motherfuckers!” It’s heavy on showbiz pizazz and light on engaging lyrical content, an issue that should not plague a pop album that boasts the co-writing team of Brandon Flowers, Ed Sheeran, and Rufus Wainwright.
“Hold me now, I think I might be dying,” he sings on ‘David’s Song’, the LP’s least self-effacing slice of plodding schmaltzy balladry. And this is an apt statement of Williams’ career at this point. Unfocused, inconsistent and underwhelming, ‘The Heavy Entertainment Show’ is homogenised pop at its most stupefying.
Words: Benji Taylor
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